At a glance:
- The hyperscalers themselves explain the trade-offs of multi-cloud
- How vertical focus could help businesses differentiate themselves in the multi-cloud world
- The argument against multi-cloud
- How multi-cloud fits into consumption-based IT
"Multi-cloud is one of the biggest inflexion points the industry has ever seen. What's driving it is the explosion of data in our world. The need for businesses to recognise this and adapt will become essential."
So said Bikash Koley, Juniper Network's CTO, at the end of last year.
And he's hardly been alone among those quick to trumpet the critical importance of "the multi-cloud world".
Gartner analysts have forecast that by 2020, 70 per cent of organisations will have adopted some form of multi-cloud strategy. Furthermore, a survey by RightScale last year found that 81 per cent of enterprises are already adopting multi-cloud.
However, not all market watchers agree. According to IDC, the current rate of progress is sluggish to say the least.
Last year, IDC claimed that only nine per cent of European organisations are "multi-cloud ready".
They found that around 80 per cent are "stuck in the transition process from hybrid cloud environments", while the remaining 10 per cent are even further behind, with very little multi-cloud progress.
However, IDC too predicts that in the medium term "virtually all European enterprises will use multiple cloud services".
What's less clear is what on earth multi-cloud actually means.
Like its namesake, "cloud" can be frustratingly ephemeral.
What we all do know is this: currently, whether by accident (shadow IT) or design (attempts to patchwork legacy systems), many enterprise IT teams find themselves managing multiple clouds, haphazardly.
And the majority of SMEs are yet to even fully set off on their journey to multi-cloud.
We spoke to top execs at all the major hyperscalers and expert cloud MSPs, SIs and VARs to gauge how seriously customers are looking into multi-cloud today.
Whatever the size of your own firm, read on to gain insights into where the strategies of the main vendors will head in 2019, as well as the candid advice from channel partners on what marketing spin to be cynical of and what successful tips to emulate.
The hyperscaler view - Google Cloud, Alibaba Cloud, OVH, Azure and AWS
CIOs may look longingly at the capability advantages that public cloud offers.
However, the market in recent years has been awash with cautionary tales of those that went all in with a single public cloud provider, only to buckle beneath the prohibitive costs they'd locked themselves into.
Indeed, a senior exec at a top US data management vendor once remarked to me off the record that he saw that strategy as "potentially bankruptcy-inducing".
What we've seen happen in the past is customers being very open to the cloud but discovering quickly that they weren't actually set up to take advantage of what it can offer
Yet managing more than one cloud provider comes with its own challenges, particularly around complexity.
I put this to Google Cloud, Alibaba Cloud, OVH, Azure and AWS.
Below, you can read how each of these top five global hyperscalers makes its case for the channel embracing multi-cloud, and what advice they have for partners.
[The partner view is on the second page of this in-depth market explainer.]
James Cowe is head of professional services at Google Cloud UK.
I asked him what kind of conversations the vendor is having with its partners on how they could differentiate themselves as more "jump on the bandwagon".
"Open source technologies such as Kubernetes, Apache Hadoop, or Apache Beam are all examples of technologies developed by Google which were open sourced and widely adopted both in cloud and on-premise solutions," he said.
"Creating reseller or managed services or offerings around these widely adopted open source technologies immediately reduces the effort involved in becoming a multi-cloud consumer. It will allow the re-use of knowledge and code regardless of the underlying cloud provider."
However, he was frank in conceding that migrating to multi-cloud, or aiding customers to do so, is inherently challenging.
"From a boardroom perspective, it is often perceived as the sensible course of action to have a multi-cloud strategy - the utopian view of being able to simply port your company's workloads between any of the hyperscale clouds is an alluring proposition, though the reality is much more complex."
"While open source technology can help with portability, it does come with a trade-off.
"Multi-cloud solutions by necessity will sometimes lose some of the key value of unique products which exist in individual cloud provider portfolios.
"It's important to make a risk-benefit decision on incorporating these products into your multi-cloud strategy where they make sense.
"These kind of decisions are also where partners can play key roles in helping organisations choose the right technologies and the appropriate point on the multi-cloud spectrum to target for their workloads."
Before getting to the top tips Cowe has for businesses, he also shared his predictions for how the market is going to change in the short term.
"We see organisations shifting towards containerisation and serverless solutions for the flexibility, agility and effectiveness of their applications, with the associated transformation of their release management and CI/CD (continuous integration and continuous delivery) processes.
And finally, in a nutshell, how does Google Cloud think partners can make sure they make their journey to multi-cloud a success?
"Adopt a product development methodology which results in code and offerings that are platform-agnostic, and focus on the management or integration of these open source technologies."
Alex Montgomery is Azure's apps business lead.
His view is that working across multiple cloud providers allows businesses more freedom than they've ever had before to manage their workloads, especially in reducing silos.
"Ultimately, organisations that take advantage of the multi-cloud model are getting the best of both worlds," he said.
"They can tap into what multiple cloud providers have to offer and cherry-pick exactly what they want to take advantage of. After all, when making their cloud decisions, whether it is multi-cloud or hybrid, companies need to find solutions that are trusted, scalable and that work for them."
However, Montgomery warned that a major barrier to firms not successfully transitioning to multi-cloud is a skills deficit.
"It's crucial that partners help their customers have a fast start to cloud so they can see the value as quickly as possible.
"What we've seen happen in the past is customers being very open to the cloud but discovering quickly that they weren't actually set up to take advantage of what it can offer due to issues such as lack of skills or governance. This is where partners come in. They can support and ensure that customers can successfully implement a cloud adoption framework."
Market leader AWS has a very different view.
Managing director UK&I Gavin Jackson warns the channel to question the whole premise of multi-cloud as a strategy.
"When we talk to enterprise or public sector CIOs, most of them start off believing that they're going to split their workloads in the cloud relatively evenly among two or three providers. But when they get into the practicality and the rigour of assessing it, very few end up going down that route," he said.
"Most predominantly, pick one provider. There are multiple reasons for this. Splitting workloads across clouds can force companies to standardise on the lowest common denominator, and these platforms are in widely different spots at this point.
"AWS just has so much more functionality than anybody else; a much larger, more mature community of service providers, software developers, software solutions, and systems integrators; and a much more mature platform, because we've been operating six to seven years longer."
Jackson also warned that for most firms it's a big transition to go from on-premise to the cloud.
"If you force teams not only to make that transition, but then on top of it to have to be fluent in multiple cloud platforms, it's tough. Development teams hate it, and it's pretty wasteful in terms of resources," he said.
"Thirdly, customers diminish their buying power when spreading workloads across clouds because vendors offer volume-buying discounts, which are reduced if you don't run as many workloads in their clouds. If customers want to use multiple clouds for backup or redundancy, they can do that by using a multi-region approach all in AWS's cloud."
OVH is Europe's main challenger to the US and Chinese hyperscalers.
Its CEO Michel Paulin (pictured right) does support the move to multi-cloud. He told CPI that the traditional European business culture of desiring customised, local connections is key.
"Our partners are crucial, serving as trusted advisers to businesses. Consultancy is a key to our partners' success in selling multi-cloud solutions," he said.
"Above all, my advice to businesses is to realise the massive potential multi-cloud has to transform business processes. No two businesses are the same, and a multi-cloud approach provides immense value in the flexibility and simplicity it offers, when it comes to setting up new cloud infrastructure.
"At OVH, we champion three core tenets: accessibility, transparency and reversibility."
Alibaba has made high-profile gains across Europe through 2018, only two years since its push out of China and into the EMEA market.
Right from the off, the Chinese giant expressed its intention to upset the apple cart hegemony of its US rivals.
General manager of Alibaba Cloud EMEA Yeming Wang said Alibaba's own disruptive strategy is one that partners can learn from.
"It is essential to ensure that multi-cloud isn't just a cloud commodity on offer, but an ecosystem that includes all the right tools and technologies to unleash the utmost power and benefit from multiple cloud vendors", he said.
Specifically, Wang suggested partners focus on verticals, rather than on customers only seeking general cloud computing (IaaS), referencing Alibaba's background in e-tail, media and fintech.
"Resellers need to think about the end-to-end or packaged offerings that they can sell, thinking about the specific needs for different industries," he said.
"For example, what are the complete solutions that a retailer would need? Those are likely to be a combination of e-commerce, logistics and payment solutions, all supported by a robust cloud infrastructure. Understanding customers' business pain points and seeing the bigger picture will help resellers excel and stand out when offering cloud solutions.
"In this ecosystem, vertical business expertise will be a key differentiator between cloud vendors."
With all that in mind, what do partners think?
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